November 01, 2017
a guest blog post by Jeff Orlick
This summer Jeff Orlick - founder of the Momo Crawl and organizer of this year's upcoming 6th annual Momo Crawl on November 5th - and Tshering Gurung of BCNA's Jackson Heights office met with several Tibetan and Nepali restaurant owners about how to improve their online presence to make it easier for potential customers to find their restaurants online and to share their experiences through social media.
Why are you such a supporter of the businesses in your neighborhood, Jackson Heights?
Jackson Heights is a living and working destination for many new immigrants in NYC. My father's family came over in the 1890s, living in Lower East Side ghettos and my mother's family came over in the late 20s and 30s. Many issues are the same today as they were then, such as the need to become an entrepreneur, great potential for success, extended families living together, powerlessness, controversy about accepting refugees, and more. As a third generation New Yorker, I think I can help identify the pathways to what I believe is justice and the roadblocks to success that people living here deserve.
What were your goals when meeting with Himalayan restaurant owners earlier this year?
Tshering Gurung and I met with Himalayan restaurant owners to make it easier for potential customers to find them online and share experiences through social media. We wanted to help them get their restaurant's information correct on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and Instagram and to provide them with the power to manage their online presence without having more daily work on top of their normal duties.
When did the current popularity of Himalayan restaurants begin?
In the last few years it has it become more comfortable for westerners to visit Himalayan restaurants. I am such a fan of the momo's role in helping Himalayan restaurants and refugees make it here. It's a familiar shape and concept to people from all over the world yet it is from an exotic land. I predict the momo is going to continue to rise in popularity.
Which countries are the most predominant and what is the difference in their food's flavors?
For our project, we worked with restaurants from Nepal and Tibet. People lump them together because they are linked by geography and culture but the foods are quite different. When I explain to westerners the differences, I tell them to smell around the restaurant. A Nepalese place will be more similar to what they think of as Indian because of the curries and lentils, and Tibetan food will be closer to what you think of as Chinese because of the use of woks and chilis.
What are some of the challenges in opening a restaurant?
It is difficult to open and run a restaurant. It is expensive and time consuming - much more so if you do not know what you are doing in New York City. You have to deal with high rent, the department of health, hiring employees, firing employees, where to get your ingredients, upkeep of the physical items and technology, marketing, and so much more. Also, you need hire plumbers, electricians, lawyers, et cetera and it is difficult to know who to trust and what you should be paying or expecting from each. It sounds attractive to be your own boss - to have freedoms to express yourself and to make your own hours. But the major motivation for Himalyan restauranteurs, I believe, is that you don't have to be hired by anyone.
How were you and Tshering able to help them?
We walked the restaurant owners through setting up accounts in Google, Facebook, and Yelp. We verified or fixed information like addresses and hours and showed them how to control their own pages in order to make their customers' view of them from an online perspective as clear as possible. One of the challenges was just getting organized because many times their own customers or friends had set up accounts for them but never gave the owners control over the accounts - frequently the information was outdated or simply wrong.
What's your advice to someone hoping to open a new restaurant?
Establish communication and ask for help from government agencies - such as the Department of Health. Non-profits and government organizations have ways to make it easier for you but few people take advantage of it. Know your competitors - learn from their successes and mistakes. Identify what people desire in your neighborhood. Know who your customers will be - are they workers? Do they live here? Are they tourists? Do they know your food already or do you have to introduce them to it? Make friends with people who have been through this before.
When is the upcoming Momo crawl and where can we learn more about it?
The Momo Crawl will be this Sunday, November 5th from 2pm-5pm, starting from Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, Queens. You can learn more about it and get your Momo Passport at MomoCrawl.com
For a delicious Himalayan experience, please visit the following restaurants:Kanchanjunga Restaurant: 72-24, Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights Little Tibet: 72-19 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights